Foxtails, This Weed Can Kill Your Dog
Foxtails are a silent danger that every pet owner should be aware of.
Hiding in open fields across the country, foxtails can easily latch onto your dog’s fur and wreak havoc.
Ranging from severe skin infections to internal damage, this plant material has the ability to deeply impact your dog’s health.
In this article we will discuss the details of foxtails in dogs, and help you better understand how you can protect your dog from foxtail complications going forward.
What Is A Foxtail Weed?
The term foxtail refers to a weed that releases barbed seed heads when it blooms.
This grass-like weed is often referred to as a “mean seed”, as these sharp grass awns easily attach to your dog’s fur as they walk through the grass.
Once the foxtail finds its way to your dog’s skin, a slew of painful complications are soon to follow.
The pointy shape causes the foxtail to always burrow forward, allowing the seed to burrow deeply into its victim.
The term foxtail may be used to describe any plant that releases these sharp seeds, ranging from cheatgrass to wild rye.
No matter which plant is responsible for the foxtail your dog comes across, each can easily burrow into your dog’s body and cause significant complications.
Where Are Foxtails Found?
Foxtails can be found in just about every corner of North America.
These barbed seeds will typically bloom in the spring, but some states note foxtail existence year round.
In warmer regions like Texas and California, foxtails may bloom at any point throughout the year.
If you are in a region that is experiencing a bloom of foxtails, we suggest getting in the habit of checking your dog’s fur regularly.
Why Are Foxtails So Dangerous?
Foxtails are so dangerous due to how easily they can burrow into your dog’s skin.
Foxtails behave just as an arrow would, allowing this sharp seed to move forward through tissue with ease.
From the moment a foxtail makes contact with your dog’s skin, it doesn’t take long for the seed to be completely embedded into the tissue.
Because a foxtail will continue to move forward from the moment it enters your dog’s body, the seed can cause serious damage to surrounding tissue.
Foxtails have been known to embed into dog’s eyes, ears, genitals, nasal cavities, and even their internal organs.
Aside from their ability to burrow deep into tissue, the presence of a foxtail can lead to a serious infection.
The hollow path in which the foxtail enters will typically fill with bacteria, leading to a severe infection when it is left untreated.
With how challenging it can be to detect a foxtail once it is hidden within the tissue, some dogs have died before finding a diagnosis.
How Can Foxtails Enter Your Dog’s Body?
Due to how sharp the head of a foxtail is, they can enter your dog’s body at any point they make contact with.
To help you better understand how your dog can fall victim to foxtails, let’s break it down based on regions throughout the canine body.
Foxtail In Dog’s Paw
Foxtails most commonly enter the body through a dog’s paw.
This occurs when a dog steps on a foxtail during their time outdoors, further embedding the foxtail with each step.
It only takes a moment for a foxtail to completely embed into the paw pad, leading to a slew of painful complications to follow.
Foxtail In Dog’s Nose
Dog’s explore the world around them with their nose.
While each sniff can help them better understand an environment, it can also open the door to the potential of nasal foreign bodies.
A loose foxtail can be sniffed up into a dog’s nasal canal in an instant, causing the seed to embed into the tissue within the nose.
Once the foxtail burrows into the tissue, it can begin to migrate further into the nasal cavity and surrounding areas.
Foxtail In Dog’s Ear
Dogs love to roll around in the grass on a warm spring day.
While this is an enjoyable activity for our canine friends, it can offer a perfect opportunity for sneaky foxtails.
All it takes is one roll into a bed of foxtails for one to become embedded into a dog’s ear, allowing the foxtail to call your dog’s ear canal their home.
Foxtail In Dog’s Eye
Just as rolling around in the grass can offer foxtails an entry point into a dog’s ear, it can introduce foxtails to their eyes as well.
Foxtails can attach themselves to the fur around your dog’s eyes, quickly burrowing into the skin as the dog tries to remove them.
While your dog may think rubbing their face on the ground and pawing at their eyes will solve the problem, it will actually cause the foxtail to embed deeper into the skin.
Foxtail In Dog’s Genitals
If your dog enjoys taking a nap in the warm grass, they may be at risk of getting foxtails embedded in their abdomen and genitals.
Foxtails can easily burrow into the fur around your dog’s genitals, allowing them to move deeper into the area with each movement.
This is not an area that most pet owners examine frequently, causing the foxtail to go unnoticed until it is fully embedded into the tissue.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has A Foxtail?
Foxtails can be sneaky once they make contact with your dog’s skin, but there are a few common signs to be on the lookout for.
To help you keep an eye out for any fox tail injuries in your pup, let’s list some of the most common symptoms below.
Some of the main signs of foxtail injury in dogs include:
- Swelling of the toes
- Licking the paw
- Bleeding from the paw
- Pawing at the face
- Shaking their head
- Swelling of the face
- Nasal discharge
- Licking genitals
If you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog, we suggest reaching out to your vet for further guidance.
You may not be able to see the foxtail when you examine the area yourself, so a physical exam from a veterinarian is essential.
Treating Foxtail Injuries In Your Dog
The standard treatment of a foxtail injury will involve a trip to your local vet’s office.
Treatment options can vary based on the severity of their condition, but will typically involve a few standard steps.
First, your vet will assess the area in which the foxtail entered.
They can search for any evidence of infection, as well as determining the best plan of action to remove the barbed seed.
In most cases of foxtail removal, your vet will need to put your dog under general anesthesia.
Not only will the foxtail removal process be incredibly painful, but your vet will need to flush the infected pathway in which it entered the body.
Removing the entire foxtail and cleaning the area thoroughly will be almost impossible if the dog is awake.
Once the foxtail is removed and your dog has recovered from the minor procedure, your vet will likely send your dog home with antibiotics and pain medications for the days following.
As long as your dog does not experience any recovery complications, they should be back to their normal selves within 7 days.
How Long Does It Take For A Foxtail To Kill A Dog?
There is no set time frame for how long it would take a foxtail to kill a dog, but you may be surprised at how quickly they can enter vital organs.
A foxtail can burrow into the tissue with each movement of the body, further propelling the seed into organs such as the heart and lungs.
This is especially true if the foxtails were inhaled, as this offers a direct pathway to the respiratory tract.
If a foxtail ends up in a dog’s lungs, it may only take a few days for a life-threatening lung infection to develop.
Many dogs have passed away from this exact foxtail complication, showing just how dangerous these tiny plants can be.
While there is no concrete timeframe for fatality, we always suggest seeking care as soon as you notice any changes in behavior.
Fast action is essential in preventing foxtail injuries in your pup.
How To Remove Foxtails On Your Dog
If you notice a foxtail on your dog’s skin, you can attempt to remove it with clean tweezers.
If the foxtail can be removed from the skin without resistance, your pup will typically be just fine.
Just be sure to monitor the area for any sign of redness or swelling, as this can be a sign of developing infection.
However, if the foxtail is embedded into the skin to the point that it’s challenging to remove, we suggest having your dog seen by your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian has the tools needed to remove the foxtail safely, as well as pain control to make the process more comfortable for your pup.
Whether you are able to remove the foxtail at home or not, we always suggest seeing your veterinarian if there is any evidence of infection.
Not only may the area be infected from the foxtail’s entry, but there may be additional foxtails in the skin that you cannot see.
Preventing Foxtail Complications In Your Dog
The best way to prevent foxtail complications in dogs is to try and avoid the areas in which they grow.
Foxtails typically grow in areas with high grass, as well as in areas that are off the main street or hiking path.
By keeping your dog on a leash at all times, you can prevent them from running into open fields unattended.
If your dog is unable to avoid areas with high grass or open fields, there are precautions you can take.
Many dog owners will put booties on their dog’s feet for protection, as well as face guard mesh that protects the facial region from any sharp plants.
No matter which terrain your dog comes in contact with on their walk, we always suggest brushing through their fur to check for any trapped plant material afterward.
This will not only prevent any painful knots from developing, but it can help you spot foxtails before they have the chance to burrow into the skin.
For being such a small seed, foxtails can cause significant damage to our furry friend’s body.
Be sure to educate yourself on the dangers of foxtail injuries in your dog, and you can learn how to best protect your pup from this plant in the future.
My name is Amber. I am a dedicated animal lover that turned my passion into my career. I am a Licensed Vet Tech with 10 years of experience in veterinary medicine, but I recently took my career online to help spread accurate information on animal care. With how vast the online world is, I have a strong desire to ensure that the reader always walks away with helpful pet advice. With the experience I’ve gained from my time in this field, I have been able to travel the world, offering my services to as many animal rescues as I can find. If I am not at my laptop, or back home visiting family, you can find me somewhere in the world, cuddling every furry friend that I can find! Read more about us here.